I spent a good portion of my day cleaning my house. My mother, step-father, sister and two nephews arrive tomorrow morning. They’ll be staying here for three days, which will no doubt necessitate a complete re-cleaning as my nephews are two and a half and seven months old. My house is not really a dirty place. It gets a bit cluttered at times, but I vacuum, mop, dust, etc. fairly regularly. Today though, I went a little crazy. I pulled up every appliance and canister in the kitchen and 409’d every square inch of counter surface. I got down on my hands and knees in the laundry room to make sure the area around the cat food bowls wasn’t harboring any food residue. I made my husband vacuum everything, even the living room which he just cleaned a few days ago. I scrubbed the guest bathtub, even though the only time it gets used is when we bathe our sun and he never actually touches the tub—his baby tub sits nicely in it and just empties fairly clean water into the tub instead.
I’m not really sure why I did all of this. I’m sure my mom’s house is never this clean. She’s never been a fan of cleaning. Even when she was a stay at home mom, as soon as my sister and I were able to do chores, she had us running the vacuum, mopping the floors and doing our own laundry. Vacuuming the stairs was the worst chore as I hated lugging that stupid hoover up and down those stairs.
Most people would probably attribute my date with Mr. Clean to a need to impress my mother. After all, it’s the first time she’s been to my house. I’ve lived here for nearly two years now, but she’s never set foot in my neighborhood. Actually, she hasn’t even set foot in the state in 15 years. I should probably point out that in the last 15 years, I have seen my mother exactly three times, once at my grandfather’s funeral (15 years ago), once when I went to visit friend’s in San Diego and spent the night at her place (10 years ago) and once when I spent an entire week in California, half of it with her and half with my sister and brother-in-law (5 years ago). I should also add that in the last 15 years, I have graduated from both high school and college, gotten married twice, had a major invasive surgery that put me out of work for a month, bought a new home and had a baby, all of which took place right here.
I think my cleaning spree can be blamed more on nerves than a need to impress. Until I actually saw my mother at my grandmother’s house on Sunday, I didn’t believe she’d set foot in the state again until my grandmother’s funeral. However, we pulled into my grandmother’s driveway at 11:39 on Sunday morning to find my step-father and oldest nephew playing in the front yard. I sucked in more than a little air. Soon after, I saw my mother. She hasn’t changed much in five years and she hugged me as if we’d just seen each other last week. I introduced her to my husband and her grandson and it was odd when she immediately grabbed my husband for a hug too. Luckily we didn’t have to make too much small talk as we had lunch reservations for 12:30 and the place was 20 minutes away. We rode in my grandmother’s car, as she always wants the man to drive the caddy.
Lunch was an experience. None of us really got to talk much, despite being at the restaurant for over an hour and a half. The bulk of the conversation was carried by my step-dad and my husband. My mom and sister spent most of their efforts feeding the baby and trying to wrangle the two year old into his chair. I tried to distract my grandmother with talk of my kid and my upcoming return to work so she wouldn’t get too irritated with the constant loop my nephew was doing around the table yelling “mine, mine,” or the repeated threats from my mom to take him out to the car if he didn’t start behaving. He never did and neither did she.
When we got back to the house, the boys took naps and there was a little time to talk. Mostly we talked about the housing prices, the boys being out of sorts due to lack of sleep and their trip back home. Nothing of any sort of substance. My grandmother hardly said anything. I think she was still overwhelmed from the dining experience. Either that or she couldn’t really hear us. She is getting old and even when I was sitting right next to her at the restaurant, she kept asking me to repeat myself. Then again, her hearing might have been hindered by the whooping of my nephew as he completed yet another lap.
My nerves about my mom’s arrival tomorrow have nothing to do with whether or not my house will be clean enough. Nor are they connected to what she’ll think of the life I lead inside the house. If I was really looking for any sort of life affirmation from her, I’d hide my Buffy DVD’s, Harry Potter books and the boy’s beer and start placing Bible conspicuously in every room. I’ve managed to get by pretty darn ok these last 19 years without her approval, so I can’t imagine a sudden criticism of my video choice or reading material to send me into tears or apologies.
No, my nerves are more about what is going to be said and done in the 72 or so hours she will be inhabiting my house. Things between my mom and me, much like her mom and her, would be best if we stuck only to pleasantries. Discussions among us should probably not delve any deeper than the weather or food likes and dislikes. That’s where most of our commonalities end. See, I have this fear, that my mom is going to say something and bring up 19 years of hostility in me and I won’t be able to hold back. It’s easy to do when she’s 1000 miles away, but when she’s in the same room, I’m not sure how I’ll handle it. So far we’ve managed to dance around issues of neglect, but only with some real restraint on my part. On my first trip back to California, I overheard her telling my great aunt that when I ran away from home, she prayed long and hard about it and God told her to just let me go. I’m guessing that was her way of justifying turning her back on me from the time I was 14 until a few month shy of my 18th birthday. I had to walk outside and pace the small rose garden to keep myself from screaming at her. I didn’t run away, I moved in with my dad because she and I weren’t getting along and I was miserable. And I don’t care what message you think you are getting from God, you don’t ignore a 14 year old kid, especially one who is obviously hurting and confused. You certainly don’t refuse to let her have any contact with her younger sister, tear up her letters, return her gifts or tell everyone, including her sister, she was a run away.
On a daily basis, I can let go of any anger and resentment I have toward my mom. I want her to have a relationship with my son, even if it is mostly via email and the phone. For the most part, I think I did ok. My dad is a good man and what she failed to give me, he and the rest of his family made up for in spades. Still, when confronted with her face to face, especially when she pretends we have a normal mother daughter relationship, it’s hard to hold back. Keep your fingers crossed for me, I think I may really need it these next few days.